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Ala. firefighter fired for neck tattoo files discrimination suit

Mobile Firefighter Kay’Ana Adams accuses the city of creating a hostile work environment within the department



By Howard Koplowitz

MOBILE, Ala. — A lesbian Black Muslim firefighter fired last year over a neck tattoo filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city of Mobile on Thursday, claiming white firefighters who had similar tattoos were not disciplined or terminated.

Kay’Ana Adams, a former probationary firefighter with the Mobile Fire Rescue Department from Sept. 11, 2021 until Nov. 10, 2022, alleged the neck tattoo was used as a pretext for her termination by a white firefighter “known to have issues” with her, according to the lawsuit she filed Thursday in federal court in Mobile.

She claimed she was discriminated against on the basis of race, sex and religion and retaliated against after complaining about the discrimination and harassment,

Adams also accused the city of creating a hostile work environment within the department.

She was subject to sexist and racist remarks “from the moment” she was hired “as a result of being a Black, female lesbian firefighter,” the suit claimed.

In September 2021, Adams “voiced her concerns when fellow firefighters were discussing how to tie a noose during rope week,” the suit went on to say, adding that a white firefighter trainee “told Ms. Adams that he did not want to work with a woman” during training.

The same trainee “argued with Ms. Adams about her religious beliefs (she is Muslim) and her sexual orientation, and for a three-month period referred to Ms. Adams as ‘macho man,’” the suit went on to claim.

The discrimination continued when Adams was assigned to the department’s Station 16, the suit alleged, where she was “regularly called ‘sir’ or ‘guy’ by her colleagues, despite the fact that she is female.”

When a white firefighter “went out of his way” to tell Adams about a ceremonial hazing in which new recruits are sodomized with a mop, insinuating that Adams would have to undergo the punishment, he encroached “on her personal space” when she told him to “treat her with respect,” according to the lawsuit.

Adams complained to her supervisors but the discriminatory comments and harassment persisted, she claimed.

A month after she got a tattoo in June 2022 that covered the back of her head and part of her neck, an anonymous complaint was filed, prompting a disciplinary hearing.

Adams’ lawsuit suggested the existing tattoo policy, which required tattoos in publicly visible areas to “at least be capable of being covered up to a significant degree,” was not only “vague,” but “was not regularly enforced, as other firefighters, who were white, had visible neck tattoos, yet no disciplinary actions were taken against them.”

After the disciplinary hearing, Adams’ probationary period was extended by six months and she was required to grow out her hair to cover the tattoo. Meanwhile, a new tattoo policy would be put in place, according to the lawsuit.


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In September 2022, Adams requested a religious accommodation to wear a a hijab while at work.

Adams “was not only asked why she is Muslim, but was also required to prove that she is, in fact, Muslim,” by the chief she made the request to, the lawsuit alleged.

Although she was given paperwork needed to process the request, “Ms. Adams was never given a decision one way or another ... Rather, Ms. Adams’ request was simply ignored,” according to the suit.

Later that month, another chief appeared at Adams’ station and said he need to take a picture of her tattoo but wouldn’t say why, the suit claimed, adding that Adams believed the matter was resolved.

She later learned a second anonymous complaint about the tattoo was lodged after her disciplinary hearing, alleging she failed to adequately cover it.

Adams claimed she was complying with the order to grow out her hair “yet not enough time had passed between the Sept. 8, 2022 disciplinary hearing and Sept. 29, 2022, for her hair to completely cover the tattoo,” the lawsuit stated. She claimed she used bandages to conceal the tattoo in the interim.

The former firefighter alleged a white firefighter “known to have issues with Ms. Adams wanted Ms. Adams fired and used her tattoo as a pretext for doing so,” according to the suit.

She filed a formal grievance against the department on Oct. 6, 2022, alleging discrimination on the basis of sex.

Adams was fired Nov. 10 for “conduct unbecoming,” according to the suit, which claimed she was never given an explanation of the conduct.

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